Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families names Keesa Smith as executive director

by Talk Business & Politics staff ([email protected]) 1,267 views 

Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families (AACF) announced Thursday (Feb. 2) that Keesa Smith has been named Executive Director. She replaces Rich Huddleston, who retired at the end of December.

Smith will assume the role on February 20, AACF said.

Smith worked for the Arkansas Department of Human Services from 2013 until 2023 as the Deputy Director of Youth and Families. In that role, she oversaw the divisions responsible for the state’s child welfare, juvenile justice and early education programs during a time of significant transformation.

During her time with DHS, Smith also served as the agency’s appointee on several boards and commissions, and as the Secretary’s designee on the Supreme Court Commission on Children, Youth and Families, and in her own capacity for the Racial Justice Taskforce and the Arkansas Court Improvement Program Advisory Council.

Smith also served as Deputy Legal Counsel for former Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe, as a staff attorney at the Center for Arkansas Legal Services, and as a university instructor in Business and Constitutional Law.

Keesa Smith.

Before serving at DHS, Smith led the Department of Workforce Services’ Board of Review, overhauling processes that eliminated a backlog of more than 4,000 unemployment appeals and decreasing the wait time for clients for an agency response from 14 months to 23 days.

“We are grateful that, after a long and careful search, we have a new executive director,” said Ryan Davis, AACF Board of Directors President. “Keesa has a strong commitment to the children and families of Arkansas, and she is prepared to lead AACF to new heights.”

Smith will be only the fifth Executive Director in AACF’s 45-year history. The previous directors were Jo Luck, 1978-1979; Don Crary, 1979-1988; Amy Rossi, 1988-2003; and Rich Huddleston, 2004-2022.

“I am excited and look forward to continuing AACF’s long history of advocating on behalf of our state’s most vulnerable population, our children,” said Smith. “For more than 45 years, AACF has played a key role in keeping children’s issues at the forefront of people’s minds. I can’t wait to begin this new role and continue the work of improving the lives of Arkansas’s children and families.”

Smith earned a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism and Mass Communication from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and her Juris Doctorate from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock Bowen School of Law.